Empires on the Edge of Chaos (Prof Niall Ferguson)


If you can spare an hour (or so) please listen to what Prof Ferguson has to say. Initially I was on really interested to hear what he said about the relationship between Empires – Complexity Theory – Economics but I was unable to drag myself away.

BUT do yourself a favour, skip the intro (it’s torture), click to “Watch Full Program” and, at least, spare 8mins to absorb Chapter 4. Unless you are pressed for time…or already know everything…you WILL watch more.

As he says, he is no Economist but I have heard more FACTS, forthright and common sense opinion from him than from many proponents…that’s the Scots for you!

He reminds us Brits about the scale and pace of the decline of our Empire.

He tells Americans what you don’t want , but need to hear…without any political spin or Fed endorsed guesswork.

Chapter 4. Complexity Theory

Elements of this lecture reminded me of my recent blog “Disaster Myopia” but, of course, since starting blogging almost 2 years ago I have made several references to the work of Joseph Tainter (Collapse of Complex Societies) and to Ulrich Beck (The Risk Society)

Current societies…are characterised by their extreme complexity at a moment in history in which traditional political institutions have lost much of the power, a power which has now passed into the hands of multinational companies

Ulrich Beck

How it IS not how it WAS, or how you thought it was…


“When it comes to epidemics of disease, financial crises, political revolutions, social movements, and dangerous ideas, we are all connected by short chains of influence. It doesn’t matter if you know about them, and it doesn’t matter if you care, they will have their effect anyway. To misunderstand this is to misunderstand the first great lesson of the connected age: we may all have our own burdens, but like it or not, we must bear each other’s burdens as well”

Duncan Watts, Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age

When I have the time I hope to sit down and prepare a presentation based around how a “post critical society” may look but I suspect it will frighten a lot of people and cast me as some kind of prophet of doom. That really isn’t me!

But I can see how we might arrive there unless people (you and me) start taking responsibility.

Read more of this post

Public Sector: “complexity paralysis” – creator and casualties


Management of Complexity

Image by michael.heiss via Flickr

A recent blog about procrastination led me to get this off my mind. It has been rattling around in there for some time…

Ever had so much going on in your head that you don’t know what to do first?

Too many tasks, too little time: which “master” to satisfy?

Every issue or task has its own factors to consider: short term effect; long term impact.

Assessing cause and effect or imagining problems, leading you to “flit” – in rising desperation – from one task to another.

Imagining failure or ridicule.

Getting frustrated by your own inability to make progress and wrestling with the temptation to walk or run away.

Turning to a familiar “crutch”, such as alcohol, irrespective of health concerns.

Contemplating delegation to a potential scapegoat. “Parking” it (procrastinating) or dumping it all together.

Seeking out some trivial distraction to fool yourself that you are too busy…even just to satisfy yourself that you are doing something when, in reality, you are DOING NOTHING!

Come on be honest. You have experienced the scenario at some point in your personal or business life. But imagine (if you have to) your state of mind, if this is what you have to contend with in your working life day, after day, after day, after…

Our minds are dynamic complex systems and can – DO – reach “overload”. Falling performance, absenteeism, stress, breakdown, etc. Different for each individual but bad news all round; work; home; family; community.

Some workplaces are more prone to this scenario than others and the excessive complexity of organisations, such as those within the Public Sector in UK, that have responsibility for dealing with the effects of these stresses in our communities, are as sick – individually and collectively – as those they are trying to help! Read more of this post

“Is seeing believing?”: Not when it comes to the deficit


I watched a very interesting programme on BBC2 last night. Horizon: Is seeing believing? It dealt with a variety of optical illusions and investigated how our brain and senses work. Available on BBC iplayer for 7 days. Definitely worth a look.

But, what they didn’t explore is the need for a 6th, maybe even 7th sense to help us see the truth through the smoke and mirrors created by our Political leaders and their “brother bankers”!

When I woke up yesterday I did so to this news:

In a letter in tomorrow’s Daily Telegraph, 35 business leaders say they “would encourage George Osborne and the Government to press ahead with his plans to reduce the deficit”. They add that it would be a “mistake” to water down or delay the deficit reduction plan.

Well they would wouldn’t they! That way WE carry the can and they get some “insulation”.

NOW I am not blind to the fact that we are in a hole. Nor the pressing need to take pretty drastic steps to tackle it. What I have a problem with is how many times do the ordinary citizens of UK have to pay?

(1) The banks had our money. Leveraged it, gambled it and lost it.

(2) So WE bailed them out. We kept our debt, paid theirs and got what?

Now they are returning to profit -. Nice big bonuses all round “HURRAH”…

…but how?

(3)CITIZENS: That’s right, by overcharging the (already, two time losers) to continue to use their facilities. I hesitate to call them services as this in some way infers that we are viewed as customers when really all that we are is a series of numbers whose indebtedness is a satisfactory substitute for loyalty (which is much more costly!)

SME (the backbone of our economy): Even the BBA have admitted that they haven’t been fulfilling the commitments they gave to, lend to and support , British business. That is FAILING BRITISH BUSINESS to you and me!

Vast amounts of money being printed (Quantitative Easing) to artificially maintain the market. Inflate, as in balloon or bubble so that “market value” has little or no meaning. Banks with multi billions of toxic assets that they cannot afford to see properly revalued (even spellchecker wants to replace this with devalued!) and nations whose currencies are shot.

Well at least that provides a great backdrop for “financial players” to make even greater killings on both stocks and currencies. Nice work if you have no moral fibre.

(4) Now we all have to prepare for further detail on Austerity measures. These will entail deep cuts to vital Public Services. We know that the Public sector grew “fat”  and inefficient during the Labour years – fed by the taxes created (I nearly said earned!), to a large extent by the spectacular – if ultimately unsustainable growth – of the UK Financial sector. Of course every one was happy to bask in the faux prosperity and to welcome the fact that the Public sector was better than it had been for a generation. Not much of a benchmark then!?

So the people who don’t have the luxury of one or two average salaries will feel the greatest impact and, effectively, pay some more for the greed and folly of “the elites” – I chose this phrase deliberately as it relates to other recent blogs covering COMPLEX SOCIETIES from history and “words of wisdom” from eminent Sociologist, Ulrich Beck.

Do yourself a favour and take a look at this video that, whilst I wouldn’t say I endorse every aspect of it, I think gives everyone the opportunity to understand about Austerity and be entertained in the process.

Best of all it’s not my fault – so I don’t have to say sorry – just point in the direction of somebody else. Like they, with all their City connections, didn’t know what was happening and were too weak to do what an opposition party is supposed to!!!

How long before the, justified, feelings of anger, disgust and injustice manifest themselves as strikes and civil unrest?

How much will that cost the economy?

Of course “they” don’t know because they haven’t thought that far ahead. It doesn’t fit with the culture that got us here in the first place. Results, quick return or early payoff. If I get it right I win…who cares who loses!

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Socio-Political complexity…naturally!


Monkeys to Politicians...how did I miss that!?

POLITICAL structures evolve in much the same way as biological species, according to new research. And just as species can decline and vanish without warning, unstable political groupings can also degrade and disappear.

The similarities between animal evolution and political evolution are revealed in research published last week in the journal Nature. The international research team from Japan, the UK and New Zealand [led by Thomas Currie of the University of Tokyo], showed how it could build “family trees” for emerging political structures to map out their evolutionary development.

The thing that most startled the researchers was the fact that “cultural evolution” could be mapped on to a family tree.

“This study highlights the benefits of applying the same kinds of techniques used to study complex systems in nature to investigate long-term human social and cultural evolution,” the authors write.

“Interestingly, these results indicate that political evolution, like biological evolution, tends to proceed through small steps rather than through major jumps in ‘design space’,” they say.

The price of complexity…

They also found, however, that retrograde steps do not have to progress on this “sequential” basis and can come apart more quickly than they are assembled over time.

“This could occur if small, peripheral groups break away from the control of a centralised state or complex chiefdom, or found new societies with fewer levels of political organisation, or it could occur as part of a rapid, more widespread societal collapse and the breakdown of political institutions leaving smaller, less politically complex groups in some regions.”